Kurt Gruber formed the first group of young members of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1926. Rudolf Hess suggested the name of the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) and later that year transferred the leadership of the movement to Franz Pfeffer von Salomon of the Sturm Abteilung (SA). Pfeffer's main intention was to train young men to fight against members of left-wing youth groups.
The Hitler Youth organization was taken over by Ernst Röhm in 1930 and remained as a adjunct to the SA. After Röhm was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives the group came under the control of Baldur von Schirach, the Reich youth leader. In this post he had proved himself to be a master organizer. For example, he directed a massive youth demonstration in Potsdam, at which more than 100,000 youngsters marched past the Führer for seven hours.
Schirach asked Adolf Hitler for permission to create an independent youth movement. Hitler agreed and Schirach now made several important changes to the way the Hitler Youth was organized. His main objective was to re-educate German youth in the spirit of National Socialism.
In 1933 Hitler took power in Germany. At the time the Hitler Youth had 107,000 members. Non-Nazi youth organizations were far more popular. Hitler solved this problem by dissolving almost all the rival organizations (only Catholic youth organizations survived this measure). All boys and girls in Nazi Germany came under great pressure to join the Hitler Youth. By the end of 1933 there were 2.3 million boys and girls between the ages of ten and eighteen in the Hitler Youth organization.
The leadership immediately set about organizing youth into a coherent body of loyal supporters. Under Baldur von Schirach, himself only twenty-five at the time, the organization was to net all young people from ages ten to eighteen to be schooled in Nazi ideology and trained to be the future valuable members of the Reich. From the start, the Nazis pitched their appeal as the party of youth, building a New Germany.... Hitler intended to inspire youth with a mission, appealing to their idealism and hope.
In my great educative work I am beginning with the young. We older ones are used up. Yes, we are old already. We are rotten to the marrow. We have no unrestrained instincts left. We are cowardly and sentimental. We are bearing the burden of a humiliating past, and have in our blood the dull recollection of serfdom and servility. But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world?... Youth must be all those things. It must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness or tenderness in it. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey. Strong and handsome must my young men be. I will have them fully trained in all physical exercises. I intend to have an athletic youth - that is the first and the chief thing. In this way I shall eradicate the thousands of years of human domestication. Then I shall have in front of me the pure and noble natural material. With that I can create the new order.
In our eyes the German boy of the future must be slender and supple, swift as greyhounds, tough as leather and hard as Krupp steel. We must bring up a new type of human being, men and girls who are disciplined and healthy to the core. We have undertaken to give the German people an education that begins already in youth and will never come to an end... Nobody will be able to say that he has a time in which he is left entirely alone to himself.
The Hitler Youth asks you today: why are you standing on the sidelines? Surely we can assume you hold to our Führer, Adolf Hitler? But this can only be achieved by joining the Hitler Youth. So you are faced with a question of loyalty: are you for the Führer, and therefore also for the Hitler Youth, or are you against? In which case state this on the attached form, to confirm it in writing. This is your last chance. Fulfil your duty as a young German. Heil Hitler!
In the presence of this bloodflag which represents our Führer I swear to devote all my energies, all my strength, to the saviour of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life, so help me God. One People, One nation, One Führer."
In 1932 membership of the Hitler Youth had been 107,950. In 1933, after the Nazis came to power, it rose swiftly to 2,300,000 out of a total of 7,529,000 German youth. By 1936 it had risen to 5,400,000 out of a total of 8,656,000. By 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, it had reached 8,700,000 out of a total of 8,870,000.
The great leap in membership in 1936 did not happen by accident. In 1934 the party had already issued a proclamation, posted at every street corner... Hitler Youths stood by the posters handing out the forms. Schools were ordered to put up lists in every classroom noting which boys were members, and which weren't. Those who weren't on a list soon received a letter, enclosing the form. Both the father and the son had to sign.
In 1936 came the first Hitler Youth Order, marking the moment when the Nazi Party decided that enough was enough. From now on measures would be taken to force all German youths between the ages of ten to eighteen to join, because time was running out: war was imminent. If a youth or a parent resisted, they would be fined and given a warning, if they continued to resist, the father might find himself out of a job. After that it was to one of the concentration camps, which were springing up all over Germany, designed to contain anyone who opposed the party: communists, socialists, Jews or fathers who didn't want their sons joining the Hitler Youth.
A twelve-mile march was considered a mere nothing for boys who are trained until they can make a march of fifty miles without other food than the concentrated ration they carry in their packs.... Later the doctor confided to me that often after one of these lengthy marches he had as many as thirty boys in hospital. Pale-faced little fellows sometimes made a march of thirty miles singing Nazi songs through the night, for their graduation ceremony.
Whenever you have kids at that age, around ten years, or twelve years and younger, you have to maintain discipline. The discipline in the Hitler Youth was maintained simply by having certain punishments. For instance, if you talked out of turn, you were punished by not being allowed to wear your scarf for three weeks. That was not for really severe crimes; it was for clowning around or whatever. The other punishment was a more severe punishment. Part of our uniform was a dagger. Can you imagine a ten-year-old carrying a dagger? It was an honor to be allowed to wear that. If you did something really nasty, you were not allowed to wear your scarf and your dagger and that meant that you were like an outcast. If something worse happened, they would send you home and you had to work it out with your parents. That worked really well.
Elisabeth Scholl, interviewed in the Daily Mail (18th January, 2014): "We just dismissed it: he's too old for this stuff, he doesn't understand. My father had a pacifist conviction and he championed that. That certainly played a role in our education. But we were all excited in the Hitler youth in Ulm, sometimes even with the Nazi leadership."
I first heard about this from a schoolfellow who wanted me to join. I was very keen but I did not dare to say anything about it at home, for I knew my father would do all he could to stop me... He used to say the most shocking things about the Führer. So I did not tell him about the Jungvolk, but I joined it all the same - and with it began for me the greatest experience of my life.... We had group meetings with community singing, story-telling and reading. And whatever was read to us was well-chosen. It was invariably picked from German history, and it is only proper, most of it was about the many great soldiers which our nation has produced.
As children, we didn't have the opportunity to travel, so we didn't get to know Germany from another point of view. We didn't have that at all. This made the propaganda that we were exposed to seem very plausible. We heard and saw nothing else. People today can't imagine this at all... We didn't have the opportunity to hear about the world abroad. There were no foreign newspapers, and so on.
The first Hitler Youth parade I saw electrified me. Seppl (his mother's boyfriend) lifted me onto his shoulders so I could watch it. Behind fluttering banners, rattling side-drums and blaring bugles, row after row of uniformed boys marched past with jutting chins and jaunty caps. I didn't think of them as boys; to me, they looked like gods. When Seppl told me that one day I might be one of them, I could hardly believe him - it seemed too good to be true.
The strong support given to the Nazis by the younger people in our survey probably reflects the Nazis' strong efforts to mold the new generation for the benefit of the regime after its seizure of power, through direct and indirect influence, such as through schools and the Hitler Youth (which was compulsory for youth after 1936). Finally, receptiveness to Nazi ideology was also facilitated by an openness to new things found among young people in general. Young people are characteristically less committed to previous conditioning than older people; they can be easily molded.
In August, 1935, R. G. Martin, the headmaster of Worthing High School for Boys, controversially took a party to Nazi Germany with their production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
On their return, Max Fuller, the head of WHSB’s Dramatic Society, reported that, in Germany, “Hitler is looked upon as the saviour of the country.”
R. G. Martin invited 15 members of the Hitler Youth to visit Worthing High School for Boys. They arrived in March, 1936.
It has since been well documented that there were ulterior motives for most such visits and that German youth with strong Nazi-influenced motivation were surreptitiously – though with various degrees of success and reliability – collecting information, documents and photographs during their tours that might prove invaluable when the time came for Nazi forces to carry out an invasion of that country.
In the schools it is not the teacher, but the pupils, who exercise authority. Party functionaries train their children to be spies and agent provocateurs. The youth organizations, particularly the Hitler Youth, have been accorded powers of control which enable every boy and girl to exercise authority backed up by threats. Children have been deliberately taken away from parents who refused to acknowledge their belief in National Socialism. The refusal of parents to "allow their children to join the youth organization" is regarded as an adequate reason for taking the children away.
General Weidling, who commanded the courageous but ragged overage Volkssturm and underage Hitler Youth troops being sacrificed in encircled Berlin to prolong Hitler's life a few days.
Questions for Students
Question 1: Read the introduction and source 9. Describe and explain the growth of the Hitler Youth between 1932 and 1939.
Question 3: Study sources 4, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16 and then describe the activities of the Hitler Youth.
Question 4: Hans Scholl (source 12) and Erich Dressler (source 13) both joined the Hitler Youth against the wishes of their parents. (i) Explain why they did not want them to join this movement. (ii) Did the two men change their mind about Hitler?
Question 5: Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband carried out a survey into the reasons why Germans supported Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. They discovered that Hitler received the most support from those who went to school in the 1930s. Why do you think that young people were Hitler's strongest supporters? It will help you to read sources 14 and 17 before answering this question.
Question 6: Hitler Youth groups visited Britain in the 1930s. Study sources 18, 19 and 20 and explain why the Hitler Youth visited Worthing in March 1936.
Question 7: Why did some schoolteachers object to the existence of the Hitler Youth? Why did they only complain in private such as the letter written in December, 1938. (source 21)
Question 8: Find evidence that members of the Hitler Youth fought during the Second World War.
A commentary on these questions can be found here.